A Willingness to Learn

I just got home from spending a few days at our Texas art teacher conference. It’s always a great time of learning and connecting with new and old faces.

But this year, I was more aware of an interesting element that impacts our experience and the experience of those around us.

It’s our willingness to learn.

Going to a conference with other professionals in your field makes for interesting dynamics. No matter the content area or profession, every personality is on display. Over the years, I’ve kind of figured out my role within my art teacher profession.

I’m the learner. This means that I’m willing to put my lack of natural ability and my desire to learn on display! Sure it can be unsettling in the midst of a few thousand “real artists” but I’ve decided to embrace who I am and in the process be a bridge for others like me and the new teachers who are intimidated and struggling to find their own role within the group.

This learner role was in full force on Friday morning as I sat in the front row of a session on painting. It was a really good session and the presenter was very knowledgable and easy to follow. He had prepped well and had a great handout. So I just got to work and played with the amazing paints.

I worked quietly and listened to the people behind me. One older gentleman talked loudly about his amazing work and his latest art show and asked the presenter questions designed to elicit complements and awe. Another gentleman was self depreciating. Another felt like we all needed to hear about his students.

I just listened.

Down the row from me a woman started worrying about how messy her work was.

Another was worrying about the size of her fruit.

Another was asking for the original paint as her plate was too small and she had messed up and needed to start over.

I just listened and worked. I got paint on my hands. I used a lot of paper towels. My plate was lopsided and my peach didn’t look like a peach.. but I just kept quiet and kept going.

Then a young teacher behind me made the comment that I’ve learned to listen for. She said she was embarrassed about what she made as everyone else’s looked so much better.

I turned around and held up mine for her to see with my messy hands and all of my used paper towels. I told her that I used to feel exactly like her, that my first couple of years coming I always felt like an imposter.

Then one year I realized that it didn’t matter what others were making. No one else was looking at me waiting to call me out for my less-than peach. I told her that I realized that some people actually planned what they would be making before coming to the conference! That they were so worried about looking good that they predetermined what they would create.

The woman looked a little shocked, but an older teacher down the row from me just started nodding and added in that she was embarrassed about her mess and the quality of her work.

Interestingly, the loudmouth stopped promoting himself and looked over at the young teacher’s painting and complimented her work. And with a smile and look of relief, she finished her painting.

I finished mine as well; gathered up my supplies and headed out with my simple little painting, messy hands and a smile on my face.

Consistency, Improvement and Achievement

As a teacher, much of what I do is hidden in a classroom and is never seen by the public. For the most part, that isn’t a bad thing! Students need to be able to try and fail and learn without fear of the world judging their progress. But sometimes, it’s nice for the world to see our progress and celebrate our achievements.

One of the really big and visible projects that my students and I spend thousands of hours on each year is the UIL Theatrical Design Contest. Unlike most of the work that my students and I do on a daily basis, the theatrical design contest garners interest from parents, teachers, the community and administrators alike as it’s a pretty cool contest and has some nice hardware in the form of awards. 🙂

2019 SHS UIL Theatrical Design Team

Over the last 8 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with the team as co-coach. The other coach, Mindy, and I are pretty awesome partners. We balance each others strengths incredibly well and are able to keep each other motivated and moving forward when the other gets downtrodden. Thankfully, we haven’t yet been ready to give up on the same day!

As more and more school districts across Texas learn about the contest and hear about the awards and points the school can earn in UIL, the competition gets tougher. As a veteran team with lots of awards, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to keep winning. And this isn’t easy! Especially when schools look to our team as the team to beat and learn from us on what to use and how to win! Eek.

SHS UIL Theatrical Design Group Entry, State Runner Up

But this post isn’t about the competition! This post is about the process, the system that we have created and what I have learned about coaching winners over the years. When I read (actually listened via audible) the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, all of the things that we do on a daily basis as coaches really solidified.

James Clear’s mindset is that true success and progress is created with incremental change. Working for 1% growth or improvement everyday. Clear also talks about how this 1% mindset pushes you to continually improve and refine the process. You aren’t swinging for the fences everyday. Your aren’t trying to hit a home run every time you come up to bat. You are just focusing on getting to first base every single time you come to the plate.

The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.

 James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

In 2013 when we won our first medal in Theatrical Design, Mindy and I looked at each other and said, okay… we can do this! SHS students had made it to the state meet prior to this year, but we had never been able to break into the medals. With this win, we reevaluated what we had done before and what we needed to do the next year to do better. And we did. We had two winners the next year. The next year we had 6 medalist with 2 being state champions.

And we have continued to have this level of success because we have created a solid system and continually refine what we do. After this last week, all I really wanted to do Monday was chill. But my students were already processing and thinking about next year. I talked with all of my classes and told them of the success of the last week and we celebrated our students medals. I invited students to be a part of the team and welcomed new interest.

We don’t even have the prompt for next year, but I have almost a dozen students already sketching, brainstorming and working on techniques that can help them achieve their goals for something that is truly 365 days away!

Why are they interested? Well, success breeds success, we know that. But I think some of it is that we are teaching skills that are applicable to so much more than one contest. Learning photoshop or how to draw in perspective are transferable skills that allow students to consider their world in much broader terms than previously imagined. While a student may use photoshop to create their poster for marketing, that student has also learned about graphic design and has useful job skills! While a student learns how to draw a set design in perspective, those same skills are the base skills for architecture and industrial design.

Never Miss Twice

https://jamesclear.com/good-habits

Finally, James Clear talks about simple things you can do to build better habits and one of his tenets is to NEVER MISS TWICE. I love this mindset. In the world of art and theatre where so much of what we do is subjective and difficult to judge, I’ve taken the NEVER MISS TWICE mindset to heart. I use this in my classroom with students about deadlines. I use this for my personal accountability. I use this in all aspects of life. And we use this coaching this contest.

Yesterday, I asked students to reflect on what they learned during this last year of work and what they would tell students as they began their journey for the upcoming year. Much of what they said embodies the mindset of NEVER MISS TWICE. Like, time management and research, owning design decisions and following through with these decisions.. and so much more. I’m sure that it is odd to many that I would claim the concept of NEVER MISS TWICE in the art world. But really, so many times one off day leads to a week of wasted efforts. One decision made in haste requires a truckload of more work. It is so easy to compound the problem because you aren’t willing to address the problem head on and instead of dealing with it once, you deal with it twice or three times or more!

And there you have it. My thoughts and reflections from this past week in terms of achievement and growth. If you haven’t read the book Atomic Habits, you should.

Who do you want to be in 10 years?

Life is busy. We all know that. It doesn’t matter where you are in life and what commitments and responsibilities you have, we fill up our lives with stuff. Lately, as my life seems to almost spiral out of control with deadlines and struggles, I’ve actually taken more time for myself than ever! Maybe it’s counterintuitive, but I’m better for it.

So what have I been doing for myself? Well, I’m listening to books and walking. It started simply. I joined a “Stepbet” Challenge and needed to get my steps in everyday. Four days a week I needed 12k steps and two days a week I needed 14k with only one off day. So I figured if I was going to be outside walking, I might as well listen to a few audible books.

So far I’ve listened to Michelle Obama’s book Becoming, a couple of Brene’ Brown’s books like Braving the Wilderness and Daring Greatly, Rachel Hollis’ book Girl, Stop Apologizing and I’m currently listening to Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Over the weeks, I completed the step challenge and have started a new one. I’ve cried as Michelle talked about her father’s physical struggles with MS. I’ve been challenged to “lean in” and be vulnerable by Brene’. I’ve been motivated by Rachel to not just dream, but actually fight to make my dreams a reality. And currently, I’m being asked to reexamine every seemingly insignificant thing I do in relation to the things I want to do by James.

It’s a little overwhelming. Even for a goal-setter, go-getter like me!

But as my mind races with possibilities, and I dream about the absolute “best me” and how I can get there, I am reminded that my journey is not only mine, but my girls journey as well.

There are so many things I wanted to be as a young girl. So many dreams and opportunities that I wanted, but didn’t see as possible. If I can change anything, I want my girls to know that they can be ANYTHING and DO ANYTHING.

So I dream. And at 44 years old, it’s harder to dream big. The crushing weight of reality does its very best to limit our dreams to what might be possible. But it doesn’t have to be.

Enter the TEN, TEN, ONE

Rachel Hollis in her book Girl, Stop Apologizing talks about dreaming and wishing and how important it is to actually put feet to our dreams if we want them to become a reality.

Hollis asks us to see ourselves as our best self in TEN years. Who is that person? What does that person do? etc..

Then you take that person that is 10 years away and write down TEN dreams that need to come true to make that person a reality.

Finally, chose ONE goal that if completed would help make the person that you want to be in 10 years a reality.

And so I’m pondering and praying. I’m contemplating and considering. I realize that since I have always wanted to be EVERYTHING, I’ve never gone all in on one thing. Creating my mental image of my best self is way harder than I thought it would be. Choosing to limit my focus makes me re-evaluate my options and path.

Who do I REALLY want to be in 10 years?

And so, as I consider this… I’m giving myself the freedom to start from scratch. I don’t really have to limit myself to traditional expectations. I don’t know that my “ideal me” will be any different than I see myself right now, but it’s an interesting thought.

Thankfully Doug is my biggest cheerleader, so I am empowered to meditate on my goals.

And in the meantime, I’m working on small habits that can be layered upon each other for big impact. James Clear’s ideas of “stacking habits” is awesome! I love that I can stack a new needed habit on top of an already ingrained positive practice. For example, my workouts are a habit. I AM an athlete. It’s part of who I am. But my breakfast choices are often really bad. So, I’m choosing to stack a new smoothie habit onto the workout habit. I’ve done this before and it worked, but I got out of the habit as I didn’t place any real significance to the practice. My daily practice of working out will now be followed by making a protein smoothie and making the bed before jumping into the shower. The difference in time is negligible, but by stacking these activities, I’m much more likely to actually create the habit. Pretty cool huh!

So I leave you with this. Change is hard, but being frustrated with your current state and not knowing how to fix/change/improve your situation is worse. Go read a book. Go for a walk. Just DO SOMETHING.

February Goals in Review

February was a busy month. I felt like all I did was run from one thing to the next, but when I look back on my goals, I didn’t do too badly given that I work full-time and have two part-time jobs plus a “side hustle” as a one act play judge along with having a family!

My goals:

  1. Hit my move goal everyday of the month.
  2. Log 6 workouts a week.
  3. Run 50 miles.
  4. Lose 5 pounds.
  5. Hit a new PR on squat.
  6. Scrapbook October 2018.
  7. Reorganize the laundry room.
  8. Create one art piece.
  9. Write a monologue.
  10. Mail 3 letters.

What I accomplished:

  1. I didn’t hit my move goal everyday. I consciously choose to sit one day. I was tired.
  2. I didn’t get 6 workouts a week, but I logged at least one workout all but 5 days of the month and finished with 27 workouts for 28 days.
  3. I ran 52 miles, including one 1/2 marathon.
  4. I gained and lost more than 5 pounds.. what can I say, I like a good roller coaster. But my net lost is a little over 1 lb for the month. More than that, the waist of my jeans is a little looser.
  5. I don’t know if I hit a new PR on squat, but I’m lifting heavy. I love that.
  6. I scrapbooked over 50 pages in February!
  7. I didn’t necessarily reorganize the laundry room in a pretty decorating way, but I cleaned it up and put things in the cabinets. Yay!
  8. I helped students develop a new art process by creating a miniature vinyl portrait. I didn’t keep it as I was using it for teaching, but I’d give myself credit for the task.
  9. I didn’t write. bummer.
  10. I mailed a few letters.

So here I am. Ready to crush March.

Feeling strong and sassy.

Art Ambassadors

It’s been a couple of months since I blogged. Lots of happenings, too much to catch you up on for the most part, but I do have a really awesome update to my classroom.

First, I can say that shaking hands with students is a winner. It has been an amazingly easy transition.. except that it took about 2 months to feel normal to me. 🙂 Students responded immediately and now just expect that I will shake their hands everyday. So with this element in place, I felt comfortable adding a new piece of the “Capturing Kid’s Hearts” mindset, but I tweaked it to work in a fine arts environment!

This is the ambassador piece.. but I called it my Art Ambassador program.

After I welcomed all students into class today, I explained that I needed help with a few things in and around our room. I told the classes that I felt that it was wrong that the students in a class didn’t know each other’s names and that it’s hard to feel like your are on a team when you don’t know who is on that team!

So to that end, I wanted to invite students to take leadership roles in the classroom and that each week we would welcome a new ambassador who would shake everyone’s hands and say their names. I explained that shaking hands should be a natural and comfortable thing to do not just with a teacher or adult but with their peers.

The Art Ambassador will also be in charge of leading “Good Things” three times a week to start our class day. Why? Because as much as I want to lead “Good Things” and as much as I believe in the process, life and teaching get in the way of good intentions if there is no one keeping me accountable! So with students helping to keep us going and moving, I know that we can do it!

And finally, the Art Ambassador is responsible for welcoming guests in the classroom, for explaining to new people about our classroom and offering the new person an opportunity to sign our social contract.

And here is what I learned today. Quiet students who don’t necessarily get called on, were remembered. Students that have stories to tell, but are afraid to voice them did so. Students that had moved in late, had schedules changed or were otherwise “new” were given an opportunity to get acclimated and learn names.. and they smiled.

Bottom line. Asking for Art Ambassadors allowed me to ask for help from the students. I asked for leaders. I asked for accountability. I asked for teamwork.

And I got it.

I’m not a new teacher. I know that there will be bumps in the road. Heck, it wasn’t perfect by any means today. In one class, after three students gave very superficial “good things” I said that I realized that this class doesn’t trust each other with their hearts and that we have to work on being trustworthy friends and uphold our social contract better.

But my takeaway.. a quiet foster home student’s “good thing” that she barely whispered to the class.. that she is being adopted. Yeah. Gut check. We cheered for her.

My prayer is that I remember these moments of transparency and love and team and that I hold myself accountable and ask for my Art Ambassadors to lead the way.

Shaking Hands and Making Eye Contact

I’ve never been comfortable with shaking hands. I guess it’s because girls aren’t taught to shake hands. I’ve always felt awkward and except for when meeting someone new in a business setting, I just haven’t ever been one to shake hands.

Until now.

The school district I work in has implemented “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” and since going to training I’m a believer in what they are doing as they attempt to transform schools into positive environments.

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As part of “CKH,” I was a happy to add social contracts and give more responsibility to the class managing their own behavior. I already did lots of stuff like that, so it was in my comfort zone. But shaking hands? Not so much. I was incredibly leery and cynical at first when it came to the need to shake student’s hands every day. I had fantastic reasons for why I couldn’t do it.

But, I’m an all in or all out kind of person, so I decided to just give it a try. If I didn’t see it as a good use of my time or students started acting up in the classroom while I was standing in the hallway, I could always go back to my old ways.

So for two weeks now I have been shaking hands with students as they enter my classroom.

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Here I am greeting a student at the door. I look like a dork. Oh well.. I’m being authentic. 🙂

And here is what I have learned.

It makes a difference.

I don’t know how. I don’t know why, but it makes a difference. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and I have great classroom management and engagement, but there is a different vibe in my room after greeting students at the door and shaking their hands.

I’ve always greeted students by name when they entered my room, but I’ve always also been doing the twenty different things that need to be done before a new group comes in, so it’s been a distracted greeting at best.

Now, for those couple of seconds, as I clasp the student’s hand and say the student’s name, I give that student my undivided attention. I look at the student’s face. I look in their eyes if they are willing to look back at me, and I smile.

I’m happier.

Maybe because I have to smile at almost 150 students a day in a personal greeting, but I have found myself smiling and laughing more. I still get incredibly frustrated at times, but more often than not, I’m able to find the humor in the craziness of high school students.

My student’s are happier.

Last year, my middle school age daughter said that her goal for school was the same as Mia Thermopolis’ “My expectation in life is to be invisible and I’m good at it.” I wonder how many students decide the same thing, not because they truly want to be invisible, but since they already feel that way, they decide that they might as well make that their expectation.

Well, when you stop and look in a student’s eyes, smile and call the student by name.. there is no hiding.

And what I am learning is that when student’s don’t feel forgotten or hidden, they are happier and they smile more as well!

I’m committed.

Not having those 5 minutes to go to the restroom, return the phone call or prep for class makes things more challenging, but it is worth it. I’m committed to shaking hands with students.

And who knows, one of the best benefits may not be the connection I feel with the students, it may be that my students learn that shaking hands is a normal part of social interaction, no matter the gender!

My Enneagram Results

The last few months have been a season of self-growth and self-reflection. I have found it to be an interesting and rewarding time. Not necessarily easy, but an incredibly worthwhile effort. After years and years of taking classes, earning degrees and becoming the best teacher that I can be, I decided that it was time just to focus on being the best ME that I could be. For an achiever and goal-oriented person, this was difficult as there is no measure of ME and for/against ME that I can use.

Along the way I read about the Enneagram Type Indicator. This test is a personality test, but it’s more than that. I really enjoyed taking the process. I took the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator online at the Enneagram Institute. I chose the long test as would by my norm. If you are going to do something, go all in!

My results overview were that I scored highest on The Challenger, then second was The Achiever, and third was The Enthusiast. No shock!

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But what I really enjoyed reading was the report that came with the test. The report gave insight to my strengths and described me when I am at my best. It also talks about how I view and handle relationships, who I am most compatible with based on enneagram type and how I can work on all relationships from this framework.

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One of the take-aways for me after reading the report is that I felt acknowledged. Yes, I know it’s a weird word to use for a generic report from an institute that has never met me, but yes, acknowledged! My frustrations with my job and career path isn’t a bad thing, nor does it mean that I’m not doing my job to my best of ability. What is means is that YES, I was created for more and I will feel frustrated and stifled as long as I am not being given opportunities for growth and leadership.

Oh how I wish organizations would use personality inventories like this to help make decisions about employees career opportunities and growth potential.  After twenty years in public education, I can say without a doubt, if a type description like the Enneagram was used appropriately for job placement, everyone would benefit. Teachers like myself with challenger and achiever personalities would be given leadership roles and administrators with personalities that don’t lend themselves to leadership would be able to look at themselves and be able to overcome their weaknesses by creating the right team.

At the end of the day, I’ve been both in the right place and worked for people in the right place and have been in the wrong place and worked for people in the wrong place. What inspires me is about Enneagram is that I can look at myself and others in the wrong place and find ways to thrive despite the circumstance. I know that after reading the nine types, I am looking at others and myself from a place of understanding and not from frustration. And that is worth gold.

Transforming Education: Redesigning the Teacher’s Workflow

I’ve been teaching twenty years and in that time I have brought home thousands and thousands of pieces of paper, journals, sketchbooks, projects and everything imaginable to grade.

Office Worker with Mountain of Paperwork

I’ve spent car rides and weekends and nights and family vacations hauling student work too and from so that I could attempt to stay on top of the never ending grading.

But over the last year that has changed!! Yay for technology! And with the start of this school year, things are even better.

The district I work in went 1:1 with student devices last year. That means that every 7th -12th grader has an ipad assigned to them for school purposes. These devices are for the students to use everyday for the school year. Along with that, we are a Google for Education district and we use the full spectrum of G Suite Tools.

It is a game changer!!

I no longer bring bags full of student work home. I no longer have canvas bags devoted to class period after class period of journals/sketchbooks. I no longer have lost papers, no name papers and the myriad of other paper tracking problems!

Even better, with the use of Google Classroom, I can grade, give real feedback and motivate students in almost real time! No longer are students waiting days for me to grade their work. No longer are the students sketchbooks in my canvas jail of waiting papers.

It truly is amazing.

And today was one of the really cool days, so I thought I’d share it with you.

I graded and gave feedback on 300 sketchbook drawings TODAY. During classes.

Yes, 300.

In previous years that would have taken me days and would have required me to lug 150 sketchbooks home. And I wouldn’t have written notes… cause I don’t write on student’s artwork.. and it would have taken FOREVER.

IMG_7664But today, as I clicked on the image, I gave super simple feedback, put a grade in, clicked post and moved on in seconds. These are starter, beginning of the year sketchbooks. They don’t need a thesis from me.

But I also was able to give encouragement that I typically wouldn’t take time to give unless I just remembered to days or weeks later. I would have wanted too, but when you grade at 10pm, you just don’t have the same emotional or mental resources that you do at 9am.

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And I didn’t just give praise, that’s not who I am. My students would have wondered who was grading if I had! I gave specific feedback that would help as they completed their next drawings.

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And there you have it.

I know that many bemoan the technology takeover.. but hallelujah for simple things that help transform a teachers workflow. Because of technology, I can give better feedback to students. I can differentiate for the individual needs of students. Students can turn work in early and move on or later after receiving more help.. and NO ONE knows but the teacher and the student!

There is so much good happening in education right now.

My goal this year is to focus on the good.

Equal Parts Pride and Sorrow

A couple of weeks ago we took Maddie to college. It was truly the hardest thing I have ever done. Yes, she was ready. Yes, we knew it was coming. But still, it was harder than I imagined. Maybe because she is our first. Maybe because she has so many health challenges. But no matter, it was not easy.

Here she is at Texas Woman’s University. She moved in a day before the rest of the dorm because we had to thoroughly clean her room and we knew that with twenty floors of students moving in all at once, Maddie would not be able to navigate through the crowds nor have a place to park!

When we got upstairs to her room, there was a comedy of errors as the leadership was using her room for training (you know, since no one was moving in yet..) But they quickly cleared out and bonus for us, they now knew that she was there!

Maddie’s room is on the 4th floor and the view is incredible! I’m so thankful that she has big windows and looks out onto a green space and the chapel.IMG_8478

We cleaned and shopped and decorated her room. Every once in a while I’d just have to stop and take a deep breath. With every placement of a picture or decorative item, I knew we were one step closer to leaving.

 

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Maddie requested that we not cry at the dorm. So, we went out for ice cream before we left. Smart? Maybe. Or Big mistake. I’m not sure.

We really did okay.. until Kylie realized that it was time to go. Watching your baby say goodbye to her sister. Dang. That was brutal.

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And then Maddie had to turn and walk away in one direction and we turned and walked in the other direction to the car. I felt like my heart was being ripped out. No, I’m not being dramatic. It was that hard.

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Doug drove home and I cried. I wanted to turn around and go back for her. But we didn’t.

Maddie is doing great and making friends. So far, her health is good. My prayer is that she gets truly settled in school and has bonded with her professors before her first relapse. Not seeing her everyday is hard. I can’t look at her face and see how her body is holding up. I can’t hold her hand or touch her shoulder. I’m not there to offer a piece of pumpkin bread or run get her a snack.  It sucks.

And that is why sending my child off to college was equal parts pride and sorrow!